CRYSTAL FALLS LaDena Schnapper went on to the next leg of her journey on Sept. 1, 2022.
She was born on March 20, 1941, to Ann and Edward (Birdie) Robichaud, who preceded her in death and whose family roots were of Italian and French- Canadian ethnicity.
LaDena, who received her unusual name as a tribute to an indigenous Canadian woman of the same name who was a friend of her mother’s, grew up at the Iron County Medicare Facility (“The Poor Farm”) that was run by her father as administrator, and her mother as matron, at the time.
LaDena enjoyed a rich life with extended family on both sides including visits with her Grandma Anesi on the Mansfield Farm, attending Robichaud family gatherings, fun adventures at the family cottage on Sargent/Light Lake (“The Camp”), skiing and ice skating at the local ski hill, and playing with her younger sister, Colleen, and her dogs, Jumbo and Rudy.
She graduated from Crystal Falls High School in 1959 and went on to complete a BA degree, majoring in social work and French, minoring in philosophy and theology, at the College of St Scholastica in Duluth, Minn.
She started the Lay Mission Program in Lafayette, La.; was president of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and received the esteemed St Scholastica Leadership Award, all while in college.
After being inspired by the words of President John F. Kennedy, (“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”), LaDena joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Ethiopia, Africa to work as a health care worker and social worker/teacher for three years.
She was the first person from Crystal Falls, to volunteer for the Peace Corps. While in Ethiopia, she learned the language (Amharic), immersed herself in the culture, and eventually married Haile Gharza, an Eritrean revolutionary who was assassinated, and was the father of her first son, Jonas.
After returning to the U.S. from the Peace Corps she worked briefly for Job Corps in Marquette, and then returned to the Peace Corps to do training in the Caribbean, where she met her second husband, Mel Schnapper, and the father of her second son, Simeon. LaDena and Mel eventually moved to Pittsburg where Mel received his PhD and LaDena her masters in social work (MSW) from the University of Pittsburg.
In 1975, the family rejoined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Western Samoa. Beset by illness, LaDena and her children briefly returned to Michigan before the family moved to Chicago for the next 15 years. During this time, she was called by destiny to work with the Lost Tribe of Jews, Bait Israel.
She became the International Coordinator of the American Association of Ethiopian Jews (AEEJ), “the Falashas,” working in Highland Park, Ill. For the next 13 years, she gave hundreds of speeches on their behalf and eventually returned to Ethiopia for a two-year stay during which she participated in the Operation Solomon 36 hour airlift, rescuing 15,000 Ethiopian Jews and helping them to emigrate to Israel.
Following this time, she went to live in Washington, D.C. and was employed as a social eorker with the D.C.Department of Human Services for 5 years, and worked with famed Ethiopian artist, Tesfeye Lemma and the Smithsonian Institution to create the first Ethiopian Cultural Museum in the U.S. At that time, she also worked with Ashenafi Mitiku to start the first Ethiopian Cultural Dance Ensemble (“The Nile”) which presented over 250 dance programs throughout the U.S., including a program at the Kennedy Center.
She then returned to Chicago to work as a travel agent and to help start the Ethiopian Community Center of Chicago. Following this time and these adventures, she heeded the family call and came back to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (“The Promised Land”) to become a “Yooper” and to care for her elderly mother. Finally, she worked as a social worker in Iron County with the Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare System for 10 years.
During her life, LaDena embodied both the Jewish concept of “Tikkun olam,” “action intended to repair and improve the world” (e.g., had trees planted in Ethiopia), as well as the Third Goal of the Peace Corps which is to “share the cultures we have lived in.” She was dedicated to keeping people connected (e.g., family through regular reunions, organizing an Anesi/Dallafior trip to Italy in 2005 where she met her Olympic speed skating winning cousin, Matteo, organized parties and fashion shows with dresses from around the world, and organized regular high school class gatherings).
She was also truly inspired by Helen Keller’s words: “Life is either one daring adventure or nothing at all.” Therefore, she lived an exciting and active life of scuba diving in the U.S. and abroad, white water rafting, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, kayaking and camping. LaDena’s motto was: I dared, I cared, I shared.
She will be greatly missed by all including her friend and ex-husband, Mel Schnapper; her two sons, Jonas Schnapper; Simeon Schnapper and wife/daughter in law, Stacey; sister, Colleen Robichaud, and nephew, Phillip Robichaud, close friend, Ronnie Rhodes, Gene Stroobants (friend), Susan Pollak (friend), Irene Falcon (friend), and Sharon Torvic (friend); adopted daughter, Fikirte Asefa, and adopted sister, Tiruwork Mitiku; dear friend, Berhanu Y. and the Ethiopian families of Tesfeye A. and Honock, Denekew G., Tesfu A., Abetu M, Erku Y, Tiku family, Goche E., Tamret A. and her faithful friend of 60 years, Mimiti D.; and Israeli families (Ethiopian Jews) Tesfeye A., Girma M, Rachamim E., and Azib L. ; and American families (Ethiopian Jews) Semu K., Zewdie B.,
There will be two celebrations of life for LaDena. The first is being organized by the greater Ethiopian Community and her family and will be held this autumn in Chicago.
The second is being organized for June 10, 2022 during which time her cremains will be interred at the Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Crystal Falls. More information and to RSVP please see her GoFundMe campaign at https://gofund.me/a6e3d30d or email firstname.lastname@example.org.